Bistrot d’Antoine: the most lauded of all bistros in Nice
Owner-run camaraderie thrives at Bistrot d’Antoine. The cosy and casual bistro with an exposed street terrace in Vieux Nice, the Old Town, has remained the most popular casual dining spot in Nice for over a decade. Its vibrant, soulful buzz is accented by the typical bistrot tight tables arrangement accross the two floors of the always full eatery.
Antoine’s dishes are modern delicious twists on local Niçoise delicacies, all presented in wide-ranging Mediterranean alliances. Spanish chorizo meets French mustard and roquette, Italian garlic marries Niçoise salad, all perhaps yet undiscovered culinary notes. The Squids and Chorizo starter with a tangerine dressing nuances a sweet citrusy lightness in the fatty sausage making it possible for the delicate nature of the squid to come out on the palate.
The market-driven blackboard menu offers a daily selection of the classic French and Provençal staples in a crafty melange of the kitchen staff at Bistrot d’Antoine. Top quality produce obtained mainly from the nearby market Cours Saleya, farmers and local fishermen, is used to prepare mouth-watering Mediterranean dishes. All presented on simple white bone plates that highlight the meal like a painting centered in a pure canvas.
Daily, there are special dishes offered on the top of the regular menu, so it is worth inquiring about them. We tried a White fish tartare in beetroot sauce topped with roquette and a crisp toast, that was superb mainly because of the freshness of the chopped raw fish.
Bistrot d’Antoine’s take on the Niçoise salad ups the game for this local staple. Despite being more known abroad, Niçoise salad is not the most typical local dish, yet it was the most easy adaptable for export. Lightly searing the tuna meat, adding crisp radishes and other seasonal vegetables such as green peas, a clove of grilled garlic, this adaptation is a gourmet plate rather than a regular salad. At his pther restaurant, the Comptoir du Marché the Niçoise salad is further luxuriated with lobster.
One of the house specialities is for some repellent, for others adorable – the Boudin Noir [a black sausage] Risotto. Based on a black pudding, made from pig’s blood, skin, seasonings like herbs and spices, and firmed (as a binder) either gently with onion or more substantially with bread crumbles in France, oatmeal in Britain and elsewhere in Europe with different cereals such as barley in the Czech Republic [jelito] or rice in Spain [morcilla]. The creamy risotto softens the intensity of the black sausage, served in two small slices on the top, exquisite, but one needs a sip of a generous red wine helps digesting the fatty rice plate through its acidity.
You can be more adventurous with the traditional Veal kidneys or just stick to a juicy Rib steak grilled and served with its rich reduction and roasted fingerling ratte potatoes with grilled moist vegetables. If you see the rattes on the menu in France, order them for their distinct nutty taste and smooth texture that holds well together after cooking.
As the owner Armand Crespo walks from a table to table greeting and helping serve the guests, everyone feels welcomed like a part of a big hungry family. The wine list does not break the bank and while represents the diversity of the French terroir it includes many local picks, such as ‘Vins de Bellet‘, the only Niçoise AOC stretching up to the hills behind the city. Le Clos by Clos St-Vincent or wines from Domaine de La Source stand out as great, yet good value picks. The wine is served at the start of your meal together with free locally distinctive tiny olives, a tin of homemade tuna spread and irresistible crisp and fresh white bread, like a teaser whetting your appetite for a memorable meal that is to come soon to you from the kitchen.
Reservation in advance is highly recommended since Bistrot d’Antoine is always full. If there is no table available, their newer establishment a couple of blocks away its sister restaurant – the Comptoir du Marché, that has also great food and is more spacious. There, bite into a small yet an ultra thick crust pizza piled high with juicy tomatoes, ham, arugula and mozzarella.
Armand Crespo, indeed makes his mark on the local Niçoise dining scene with these two superb bistros. Treating you to another complimentary sweet snack – a box of butter cookies – at the end of your meal with coffee or tea, he secures your return, and I am sure I will be back soon.